Insourcing

July 21, 2011 § 12 Comments

We’ve become a nation of outsourcers. Not only are we sending our jobs and manufacturing overseas (a company in my backyard just shuttered its doors and sent its manufacturing to China, laying off 40 people in the process), but in our own lives we are beholden to a cadre of “experts” to help us manage the smallest details.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, in no small part to the excellent e-book by Jacob Lund Fisker, “Early Retirement Extreme.” He proposes that we should become “Renaissance [Wo]men” rather than “Wage Slaves” in order to take back control of our lives so that we can ultimately be free.

What he means by “Renaissance [Wo]man” is a person who not only can generate income from a variety of useful sources, but also someone who can manage the little disturbances that come up in daily life without having to call in an expert. A Renaissance [Wo]man knows how to fix the plumbing, repair the bike, change the oil, mend a hole-y sweater…  Renaissance [Wo]men have a diverse array of talents.

A “Wage Slave,” according to Fisker, is someone who is completely dependent on job income for everything. They specialize in one area of expertise, their career, and leave the rest to others. The garden is weeded by a gardener. The roof is repaired by a contractor. The clothes aren’t even mended, rather replaced at the boutique down the street. You get the picture.

I’ve fallen somewhere in the middle. I’ve always had a job, and it has gotten even more specialized over the years. Right now I actually just do ONE thing for the company I work for, and absolutely nothing else. However, in my personal life I have, for many years, been slowly discovering the things I can rely on myself for – and the list increases every week. My job may be specialized, but my life skills are varied and ever-changing.

Things I currently insource:

Food:

I’m a vegetarian and a foodie. This is a tough combo. Even though I live in an area where people are pretty enlightened when it comes to food, many restaurants still have very limited vegetarian selections. I’ve realized that if I want to eat in the decadent manner to which I had become accustomed when I was a carnivore, I have to take matters into my own hands. I’ve read, studied, practiced and learned everything I can about vegetarian cooking, unique ingredients, unusual spices… I’ve made my own granola (it’s so good and so much cheaper than store bought), soups, sauces, salads, hummus… Some have been complete failures, but for the most part I eat like a queen because I was willing to learn how to do it myself. (I’m converting to vegan at this point and it is a LOT of work – I’ll post on that later…) Next, I’ll be making my own tahini. I also just signed up for our community garden – no more outsourced, garlic, potatoes, beets, herbs or onions for me. I’ll be growing my own.

Household:

I had a team (a team!) of housekeepers for years, but now I clean my own house. I keep it manageable by eliminating clutter wherever possible. I just made my own laundry detergent (click here for a really solid post on this at exconsumer, which was inspired by this one at thesimpledollar). I make my own cleaning products using baking soda and vinegar. I don’t buy plastic bags to store things. Instead, I re-use jars that had things in them that I have already used. I never purchase plastic utensils or paper napkins – I just take my silverware and wash it when we get home. I recently made my own toothpaste, giving me one more way to save money and eliminate unnecessary packaging. (George is SO not on board with this one…)

Entertainment:

I gave up organized entertainment long ago, and I was recently reminded why. After paying $60 for two of us to get into an aquarium we were unable to even see anything because of the crowds. That’s just one example. I haven’t set foot in a mall in years because I don’t outsource my amusement to retail outlets. Aquariums, zoos, amusement parks, putt-putt places – all of these are out. For fun, we hike, bike, play Killer Bunnies, read, cook, identify birds, spend time with friends, nap and listen to music. We attend free concerts. One exception I’ll always make: Art museums. I love me some art.

Exercise:

I understand the need for joining a gym or hiring a trainer if you A) live in a region where you’re snowed in for several months and you like to have a warm place to work out or B) you have a particularly dicey weight, health or medical issue that requires some assistance by a pro. I’m lucky in that I live in a region where I can be outside pretty much every day and I can walk. Walking regularly combined with biking, hiking, kayaking and all those other things I naturally love to do, have helped me remain fit while I kept the money I would have spent on a gym in my wallet instead. I even do yoga workouts at home with a pretty decent library of DVDs (you can also check these out from the public library.) Basically, I’ve always insourced my exercise – and you can, too!

Travel:

I reject the notion that I NEED a car.  Cars are dangerous, expensive and dirty. Car culture is making us fat and unhealthy, and it is destroying the environment. The only reason I still have a car at all is so that I can get to the coast for hiking and to get to the corporate office when I need to. I’d be more than happy to rent a car every time I need to go a long distance, but I’m not on my own so I must compromise. But we CAN reduce our use even more. At this point, the kids can either walk or bike to school, and there’s no single destination in my hometown that can’t be reached by foot or bike. I avoid the car whenever possible, thereby insourcing my ability to move around.

Other:

I never hire painters. George and I do most of our home repairs and updates including tiling, appliance hookups and small plumbing jobs (George installed our cork floors himself, saving us thousands of dollars.)

Things that I could – and maybe should — insource, but haven’t yet:

Pedicures:

I need my feet to look sweet in the summer because I’m always in flip-flops. But why can’t I do it myself? I bet I can.

Haircuts:

Although George already cuts the kids’ hair, I can’t seem to talk him into learning to cut mine. This will probably never happen (and probably shouldn’t).

Auto repairs:

I don’t know anything about my car or how to fix it. Right now the shocks need to be fixed and the quote was nearly $500. I don’t even know where to begin to learn how to fix a car.

Bike Repairs:

Ditto above. Fortunately we haven’t needed to do too much, but there’s a bike shop a block away so it’s hard not to just pop in.

Clothing:

I don’t know how to make my own clothes. But I do know how to mend things, so that’s a start at least.

Products we use:

I don’t churn my own butter or make my own mustard. I don’t know how to make hairspray or dryer sheets. I don’t know how to make miso or vinegar or press my own olives for oil. Are these things I can learn, or should I learn to live without?

By learning to insource, you not only take back control from marketers who have made you believe that you need their products in order to be happy, but you also save gobs of money.

One small example: We used to buy delicious hummus every week from “The Hummus Guy” at our farmer’s market. It cost $7 and came in a plastic tub. I now make my own with bulk beans and herbs and it costs us about 75 cents for the same amount. It takes more time, but it’s fresher and cheaper. And what better way could I be spending my time, really?

What products/services could you insource?

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§ 12 Responses to Insourcing

  • Great post. I’ve often thought lately that I need to learn more skills. When it comes to DIY I can paint and sand but for the skilled stuff I rely on my boyfriend.

    I stopped using dryer sheets a year or so ago and can’t say that I’ve missed them. Oh and I came across a recipe for hairspray here http://zerowastehome.blogspot.com/2010/03/zero-waste-recipes.html but haven’t tried it since I don’t use hairspray.

    I often wonder what others used to buy that they don’t anymore due to minimalism, being frugal or for environmental reasons.

  • Thanks for your comment! I looked at the hairspray recipe — how could that be sticky enough?? I’m absolutely going to try it.

  • I love this Bethany! I’ve never looked at all of these things as insourcing versus outsourcing, but you’re absolutely right.

    I do many of the things you have listed here, and I’m always looking for more ways to “insource” the things we currently outsource. For example, we have our driveway resealed each spring. I’m pretty darn sure I could manage spreading around some blacktop sealer with a little spreader.

    And like Candi, I stopped used dryer sheets years ago when I found out I would need to clean my dryer filter from the residue they leave behind. So I guess at the time I stopped using them it was more out of laziness than trying to insource! Ha, ha.

    Thanks for linking to my homemade laundry detergent post!

    • It’s kind of fun after awhile, isn’t it? I love looking in my fridge or pantry and realizing I can do a lot of these things myself. It becomes a way of challenging myself creatively. I totally want to see videos of you sealing that blacktop!

  • Calico ginger says:

    I really enjoyed this post! I am on my own now and have been forced to become more self reliant and it’s very empowering (though cars are my “black hole” too, even after I did a basic maintenance course at the local community college).

    Can I suggest YouTube as a source of great “how to” videos. I repaired my sick Fisher & Paykel washing machine with the help of some kind man in the US who had a posted a similar operation on his slightly different model and saved myself a couple of hundred dollars at least.

    And then there was the “How to do a Victory Roll” video for my daughter which kept her out of the hairdressers, and it goes on…

    And also, I always ask repair people lots of questions now, what went wrong?, is this model prone to it? how do I not have it happen again? – they usually love to tell their horror stories and give tips.

    My best tip: my kitchen is all stainless steel (not my choice) and it’s hard to keep looking nice – the repairman said don’t bother with SS cleaners – get some WD-40 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WD-40) – works really well, a can lasts forever and doesn’t cost much at all compared to the other products.

  • [...] A minimalist takeover.   I recently blogged about some projects that fall under the banner of “insourcing.” The upshot is that there are probably several things we each pay someone else to do, make or [...]

  • Life is just so much more interesting since I have been learning how to do things myself, instead of being a wage slave, just being a neverending stream of money to pay for everything.

    Like you, I am trying to insource more things in my life. I make most foods fromscratch, including yoghurt and bircher muesli and sweet treats. my husband and I even researched how to lay a floating timber floor in our home. This was the first time i had ever undertaken anything like this, and we played to our strenght. I did al the measuring and angles of the planks, and hubby did all the heavy lifting and cursing.

  • [...] insourcing as much home care as possible, including making my own cleaning supplies and de-cluttering to the point that my home is easy to clean [...]

  • Chris says:

    The few things left there that you aren’t insourcing are perfect items to build relationships in your neighbourhood.

    I recently walked to a local tailor who maintains a humble address, and had a favourite pair of pants brought in (almost 4 inches!). Having clothes adjusted, or even made, offers such a real actual experience, compared to going shopping.

    Likewise going to visit a local bike repair shop, or finding someone in the neighbourhood who can fix most problems with your auto in his driveway – these are wonderful tasks for building relationships around you – a more direct relationship with people in the community, as opposed to a relationship with a business.

    There are added benefits in such a relationship economy, in that the more you get to know each other, the more you want to pay, and the less the other wants to charge.

    Lovely post. Thank you.

    • I think you’ve brought up a great point. I have done work for barter before — I wrote a newsletter for a local grocer in return for free groceries — but I never thought of working with my neighbors just to build relationships! I especially like that you are having clothes tailored rather than just replacing them. I think that’s also a very important part of insourcing — maintaining your things for as long as you can. Thank you so much for commenting. You’ve given me a whole new perspective!

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